BERLIN – Assateague Island National Seashore reopened Sunday after a seven-week closure in response to COVID-19.
While much of the park opened to the public at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, the visitor center as well as front and back country campgrounds remain closed.
“While most outdoor areas will be accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased in and visitor services will be limited,” a release from the park reads.
In mid-March, the park’s ranger stations and visitor center were closed to the public. That was followed by a complete park closure on March 28. Though a social media post late last week indicated the park was still waiting on approval to reopen, Sunday morning the park announced it would be restoring access to most areas at 9;30 a.m. May 17.
“Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health authorities, Assateague Island National Seashore is increasing recreational access to beaches and nature trails,” the park’s release read. “The National Park Service (NPS) is working service wide with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to gradually increase access on a park-by-park basis.”
Reopened areas include recreational beaches, parking areas and restrooms at North Beach, South Beach, Ferry Landing and Bayside Peninsula as well as nature trails in the Maryland District. The Over Sand Vehicle Zone (OSV) also reopened and, a few hours after opening, was about a third full according to the Facebook page Assateague OSV Count.
Liz Davis, chief of interpretation and education at Assateague Island National Seashore, said cool and foggy conditions in the morning kept the park from being too busy Sunday morning. She said visitation was light and there were no issues to report.
“As the day went on and the word got out that the park opened, more folks came out,” she said. “Over Sand Vehicle permits could be obtained at the ranger station and over 130 visitors came out for renewal and purchase. Over 1,200 vehicles were in the park. Our campgrounds are not open yet, but visitors were thrilled to be back on the island.”
Park officials advised that when visiting Assateague the public should follow local area health orders, maximize physical distance from each other, avoid crowding, limit gatherings to less than 10 people and practice “Leave No Trace” principles. The principles, according to the National Park Service, are based on scientific research in the fields of recreation ecology and human dimensions of natural resources. The seven Leave No Trace principles include: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.
Assateague officials remind visitors to stay home if they’re feeling sick.
“The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” the release states. “Sick or vulnerable individuals should stay home. We will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.”